A fellow journalist forwarded me a Washington Post article by a woman named Alyssa Rosenberg, and pointed out that it serves as a textbook example of the phenomena discussed in “Stonewalled.” Indeed, it does. And it deserves a serious Fact Check.
Rosenberg’s error-riddled article attempted a number of propaganda tactics I describe in the book. In doing so, she failed to follow the most basic tenets of journalism as taught to beginning college students.
In her Feb. 27 article, Rosenberg writes:
“Former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson seemed to have been bingeing on high-tech crime dramas (or, judging by her lack of technical sophistication, “The Americans”) when she suggested that her computers and home Internet and cable box had been hacked so that she could be monitored. A Justice Department investigation confirmed that whatever her problems, they had less sinister — and less exciting — origins than a shadowy government conspiracy.”
The following summarizes some of the mistakes in Rosenberg’s article:
Failure to obtain source information and failing to contact primary source
Rosenberg did not interview or speak with me, and has no factual information to support her assessment of my “technical sophistication” (or lack thereof).
Shading facts to fit a false narrative
Rosenberg inaccurately and unfairly shades information when she states that I “suggested my computers and home and internet and cable box had been hacked,” as if the intrusion allegations materialized out of thin air. Fairness and accuracy dictate that she should have noted my assertion that three forensics exams confirm remote intrusions of my personal and work computers. The results of one of those forensics exams were made public on Aug. 7, 2013 when CBS News confirmed that my work laptop had been subjected to highly-sophisticated remote intrusions.
CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair said that a cybersecurity firm hired by CBS News “has determined through forensic analysis” that “Attkisson’s computer was accessed by an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions in late 2012.”
“Evidence suggests this party performed all access remotely using Attkisson’s accounts. While no malicious code was found, forensic analysis revealed an intruder had executed commands that appeared to involve search and exfiltration of data,” stated CBS News in its press release. “This party also used sophisticated methods to remove all possible indications of unauthorized activity, and alter system times to cause further confusion. CBS News is taking steps to identify the responsible party and their method of access.”
Multiple fact errors demonstrate recklessness
First, Rosenberg states I asserted my “cable box” had been hacked. I don’t have a cable box and have never made such an allegation.
Second, she states that there had been a “Justice Department” investigation into my computers. In fact, there was not. A partial investigation was attempted by the Justice Department Office of Inspector General. To a rookie, there may not seem to be much of a difference between the Justice Department and an Inspector General. But those with a little experience understand the bodies are separate agencies with entirely different missions.
A third fact error is contained in Rosenberg’s incorrect synopsis of the Inspector General’s findings. She states the investigation “confirmed that whatever her problems, they had less sinister — and less exciting — origins than a shadowy government conspiracy.”
Rosenberg either did not bother to read or did not understand the publicly available document that she mischaracterized: it made no such finding.
In short: the Inspector General never examined the CBS computer at issue–the one that CBS confirmed had been subjected to remote intrusions. The IG clearly stated that it was unable to form any conclusion about a computer it did not examine.
Compounding these fact errors, Rosenberg further fails to include basic context: the Justice Department Inspector General works for the agency that is accused in the intrusions. Characterizing findings by the IG without noting that it’s akin to an accused criminal proclaiming innocence fails at the job of providing fair and important context.
Repeating false narrative
So where did Rosenberg’s mistaken ideas come from? Her assertions repeat fact errors and spin generated by partisan blogs and other misreporting.
But this may be more agenda than accident. As it happens, Rosenberg — a liberal writer — came to the Washington Post from the liberal blog ThinkProgress.org, funded by the Hillary Clinton-associated Center for American Progress.
Rosenberg’s bio indicates she has also written for the liberal blog Slate.com and she considers those at the liberal blog Mother Jones “friends and colleagues.” All of these groups, along with the pro-Clinton blog Media Matters, have coincidentally attempted to advance the same false narratives as Rosenberg does in her article. (Those groups are also smarting after appearing on this list of Top 10 Astroturfers).
Could it be that pro-Clinton groups and advocates are working hard to controversialize the reporters who they fear might dig into inconvenient facts? Are opinion writers and “news reporters” being placed at news outlets to spin public opinion a certain way in advance of the upcoming presidential election? Could it be an attempt at malicious retaliation against reporters who have exposed Clinton’s incorrect statements in the past?
Questions worth asking.
It can be argued that liberal opinion writers such as Rosenberg are entitled to advance their political agenda, and that they have no obligation to do research or be accurate. But when they write for a news organization such as the Washington Post, and intertwine their opinions with false facts, it’s irresponsible and indefensible.
Advancing narratives, unfounded claims and rumors has become normal operating procedure at many media outlets. In this way, they allow themselves to be used as tools by propagandists who desperately hope that if a falsehood is repeated often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth.
It’s what I refer to as the “false reality” created by astroturfers and propagandists using social media, bloggers and their partners in the news media.
Rosenberg mischaracterized the IG’s findings, didn’t attempt to contact me, and didn’t read the claims in my lawsuit against the federal government. That information is publicly available to anyone with the skill set to use Google. She made multiple fact errors. She omitted facts and context that would have left a different and accurate impression. Instead she dishonestly presented information to fit a false narrative.
Ironically, in her story, Rosenberg criticizes others in stating: “Excellent journalism… demands a clear-eyed sense of the real story.”
For her reckless errors, malicious tone and disregard for the truth, the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg earns Three Little Devils.
(See Ratings Scale below)
Read Alyssa Rosenberg’s original article in The Washington Post firstname.lastname@example.org
[button link=”https://sattkisson.wpengine.com/top-10-astroturfers/”]Read: Top 10 Astroturfers (as chosen by you)[/button]
[button link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bYAQ-ZZtEU”]Watch Attkisson’s TEDx Talk on Media Manipulation Astroturf &Propaganda (at the University of Nevada, Reno)[/button]